TIME magazine and Afghan Women – research on different arguments, based on images of Afghan women on front pages such as TIME magazine


Time magazine was first established in the year 1923 and is one of the most reliable guides to the events that take place around the world. TIME covers issues to do with health and science, politics, business, society and entertainment. After the attacks on America, most of its covers and stories were based on Afghanistan.  

The above is an image of an Afghan woman published as the front cover of ‘TIME’ magazine after the events of the 9/11 attacks. Underneath the title ‘Lifting The Veil’ it says, ‘the shocking story of how the Taliban brutalized the women of Afghanistan.’ The rhetorical question of ‘How much better will their lives be now?’ draws the viewer’s attention and tells the people how horrible the conditions were for Afghan women during the time of the Taliban, and contrasts it to the current improvement in life for Afghan women. According to Cloud, TIME use these images to contrast light and modernism with the darkness of chaos and backwardness.”


This is an image of the famous Aisha Mohammadzai (also known as Bibi Aisha), whose photograph was printed by the TIME magazine. The 18-year-old Afghan girl from Oruzgan, the southern province of Afghanistan, was the victim of torture by her husband and brother-in-law. Bibi Aisha was married off to her husband at the age of 12, to settle a dispute known by the name of ‘baad’; this is when a daughter is given in change of a payment. Six years into her marriage in 2009, she fled the home of her husband back to her own home, because she could not face any more torture from her husband and in-laws.

The Taliban had found out and taken her out of her home to have her punished by her husband. Her brother-in-law held her for her husband to cut off her nose and ears. She had passed out due to the pain, and upon gaining consciousness, she found herself choking on her blood abandoned by the torturers.

When her story was published, Bibi Aisha was invited to the U.S. for a reconstructive operation to replace her nose and ears. The Daily Beast was first to report Aisha’s story, it was later found on World News with Diane Sawyer covering Aisha’s trip to the U.S. Aisha was looked after in the Woman for Afghan Woman (WFAW) organisation. One of the people looking after her Esther Hyneman stated “she made great strides during the nine months she spent in the shelter”. Gayle Tzemach Lemmon, who wrote the article for The Daily Beast on Aisha, specified that when she had first met Aisha she wasn’t in a good condition, as she was “a bewildered young woman whose piercing cries startled the other shelter residents.”

Lemmon spoke to Aisha again when she had been in the U.S. and found that she had settled down and was much calmer, “She was a poised young woman who spoke clearly and eloquently about her desire to rebuild her life.”

Aisha, as a result of her experiences, became a media sensation as soon as her story was published to the world. TIME magazine had published her photo on the front page, with the headline of “what happens if we leave Afghanistan”, without a question mark so as to make it a statement. The headline convinces the readers that Afghanistan, in general, is widespread with cruelty and brutal sadomasochistic behavior towards women. But the question remains, if photographs like these and reports on tortured Afghan women change anything for the women of Afghanistan? In reality, outside of these reports, is much done for the Afghan women?

Different newspapers covered the case of Aisha extensively. Mail online covered the story with the title of ‘The smile that defies the Taliban: Afghan teenager whose mutilated face shocked the world unveils her new image.’ Mail online had also published reports on Aisha after her surgery in America, this time with the title of ‘I am so happy with my new face:’ Brave time cover girl Aesha shows off results of incredible surgery after Afghan husband sliced off her nose,’ including pictures of her smiling at the cameras with the ‘American’ family she now lives with, including images of her during the time of her transformation.


This is an image of Aisha and the American Afghan family who she now lives with.

The guardian had a different view on Bibi Aisha’s story, ‘Afghanistan propaganda war takes a new twist: Critics say that pictures of an Afghan girl disfigured by the Taliban are being used to justify the occupation. But can we just abandon women like Bibi Aish to their fate?’

Andrew Anthony, who writes for the Guardian, talks about images of Afghan women being printed only to get people to support the decision of America to send its men to Afghanistan, the main reason being, to save its women. Anthony states, “national liberation always trumps female emancipation.” He then goes on to explain that, for the people who are in support of the Nato troops to remain, the story of Aisha has “acted as a symbol of what they were fighting against, and for those who wanted to see them withdrawn, it was a piece of emotional propaganda or “war porn.”

Esther Hyneman, a member of Women for Afghan Women (WAW), helped Aisha during her stay with WAW in Afghanistan, she saw Aisha personally almost everyday for five months. Hyneman spends 6 months a year in Afghanistan working with WAW executive Director Manizha Naderi on WAW projects. In a report for Huffington Post, ‘Staying Honest About Afghanistan’, Esther Hyneman has written against the Anne Jones for labeling the story of Aisha for the TIME magazine as ‘untrue.’

 Jones believes the Taliban shouldn’t be blamed for everything that happens in Afghanistan. She has written in her article for the ‘Nation’ on this matter, stating that although Bibi Aisha’s recovery in Afghanistan is a reason to rejoice, she should not be the cornerstone for the assumption that without foreign troops, the men will mutilate the Afghan women. She questions the use of Aisha’s story as a reason for US military to stay, as “even Aisha has already left for America.”

However she later stated that her previous comments were illogical but then again so was the cover of TIME magazine with the cover line “What Happens if We Leave Afghanistan” beside a shocking photo “depicting what happened (to this woman) after we had already stayed for eight years.”

Hyneman retorted Jones’ claim by stating Jones had conducted one single interview with Aisha, which is too short a period for her to claim that her story is false, and reinforced that the “Taliban were responsible for the monstrous crime perpetrated against this young woman.” She has written that the photograph of Aisha was to remind people, to shock them, and to convince them of the dangers to Afghan women once the coalition has left.  

Jones has also stated that little progress has been made in the lives of Afghan women, despite all the reports that have been published to the western world since 2001. Hyneman thinks otherwise as she believes that the Afghan people and Afghanistan should be congratulated for the massive change that has already taken place in Afghanistan in the lives of women, in such a short time. She states that the massive change in Afghanistan over such a short period of time surpasses any in the western world. Her examples included the fact that Switzerland didn’t give women the vote until 1971 and that the US still refuse to sign CEDAW, the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women.

Hyneman believes that the article published by the TIME magazine has been done so to make people aware that if the Americans leave conditions will still remain bad for the Afghan women. Whereas Jones disagrees with that and says reports like Aisha’s are unreliable and that they are only there to convince people to support the stay of the troops in Afghanistan.

Articles published on women in Afghanistan are often based on political violence. There are reports on women who are victims of violence, torture, forced marriages, rape amongst many other atrocities rather than reports on women attending schools, getting involved in sport and starting to drive.

The case of Bibi Aisha, according to Jones, was published in order to prove to people around the world that she had been saved by the Americans and brought to the U.S. for a better life, and taken away form hell, convincing people to support the decision to keep sending troops to Afghanistan.

Dr Sima Samar, chairperson of Afghanistan’s Human Rights Commission, who is Afghanistan’s first ever Minister for Women’s Affairs believes Afghanistan is more open to change than others. She stated, “in comparison to neighboring countries, Afghanistan’s political system is more open to women.

In light of all the points mentioned and according to the research gathered, I have demonstrated that the media actively portray Afghan women as oppressed and helpless. The media are only choosing to show one side of the lives of Afghan women, and giving them a subjective voice that they think the West wants to hear. According to Kathy Gannon, who was a foreign correspondent in Afghanistan, “it’s not all the media’s fault either. There have been real attempts to go beyond black and white and fill in the grays but frankly, there is not a real appetite for it.”

Before the government was under the control of the Taliban, Afghan women made up 50 percent of university students, 70 percent of teachers, and 40 percent of doctors and a vast majority of health care workers. Most Afghan women did not wear the Burqa. During the rule of the Taliban, despite their laws, women endangered their lives just so that they could secretly run home schools and health clinics, a secret protest against the Taliban regime.Despite the efforts in gender fairness and equality, women of Afghanistan have not yet extensively become effective players in the rebuilding of the country but in its place represent past oppression.

Afghanistan has improved majorly as women can now make enough choices of their own to live a good life.

Charles Krauthammer, who writes for Washington Post writers group column, stated in one of his posts, “‘Let Kabul be taken as soon as possible and then have every earthly news camera show women taking off their Burqas, music again being played, girls going back to school, and the Taliban gallows in the soccer stadium being torn down.”This statement has proved right in many aspects. Women are now working, young girls attending schools, football stadiums are used for its purpose: to play football. More women are now spotted in the streets of Kabul going about their daily lives, with no man to point a gun at them and people are now allowed to celebrate; this is what we should see more of in the media.

In response to the dissertation question, Afghan women are portrayed as helpless creatures who are at the mercy of the masochistic Afghan men. The media forget about the millions of mothers, sisters, daughters and wives who are loved, respected and cherished as per the law of the Quran, a rule of law that is enshrined within the Afghan constitution. It is submitted that the rationale behind this portrayal is so that the west can show those watching that Afghanistan is now a much safer place because of the international intervention and therefore justifying the invasion.

It is therefore argued that the portrayal of the women in the Media is very one sided in that only the negative aspects that highlight female oppression is being broadcast to the world, with little attention being paid to the many positive political and socio-economical changes in Afghanistan and womens rights.

This was written as part of my university degree. It is a little bit of my dissertation, and mostly based on the research I gathered. I decided to add it to the blog beacasue I thought it would be a good topic to share with my readers